The work of building stewardship in our lives, in our ministries and in our churches means different things to different people. Some equate it with discipling believers to embrace radical generosity. Others see stewardship as accomplishing the most you can with the smallest amount of financial resources. In the end, both ideas are portions of stewardship but alone they are not the whole. As we seek to disciple people toward a generosity that mirrors Christ and a stewardship that honors Him, let's sit at one end of the spectrum for a moment.
Just because we can lead people to give significant amounts of money, that does not mean we are given the latitude to spend it frivolously. There should be ample reason to spend the "widow's mite." Whether that mite comes from the actual fixed income of a widow, a wealthy entrepreneur or a couple who is just being faithful, we should look for every way to do ministry so that it costs nothing; if that's possible. Then we can channel the financial resources of the church to those ministries that require financial support.
As a church leader, I know that we are constantly tempted by the idea that everything in the church has a dollar amount attached to it. When we lean in this direction, we are simply wrong. Evangelism, discipleship and impacting spiritual growth in people can be done with zero money involved. Now, you may argue and say, "But Bibles cost money, and so do workbooks and journals. Even if you get together to visit over coffee, someone is buying." You would be right. But much of these expenditures happen outside of the life of congregational giving.
What I'd love for you to embrace in this moment is a list (though not exhaustive) of 20 ways that ministry is accomplished without any financial cost. Take a quick look.
- Visit local business owners to encourage them
- Befriend a local school principal
- Disciple someone for a year
- Pray with a friend
- Start a Bible study group in your home
- Volunteer with the hospital chaplain
- Hold an open Q&A group in your home about spiritual matters
- Visit with the neighbors whose homes border your church property
- Train people in sharing the gospel
- Call all of your church's Bible study leaders to encourage them
- Make the rounds at a local assisted living facility
- Volunteer to read stories to kids at a local library
- Call every person who has visited your church this year
- Start an accountability group to read the Bible and pray for each other
- Make some new friends in your neighborhood
- Visit the local firefighters' house and take cookies
- Ask your mayor how you can pray for him/her
- Study diligently to answer cult members who knock on your front door
- Present a verbal gospel witness to as many people as possible
- Invite everyone involved with the above 19 actions to worship services and Bible study groups in your church
To be a voice for stewardship, you must know how to engage the most important ministries in the church. I find them to be the most personal. If you are a leader, show the church the benefit of giving toward those needs that absolutely require financing. But also lead them to the intensely personal ways to give themselves to ministry. It's what the apostle Paul needed the Corinthians to remember: "they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us by God's will" (2 Corinthians 8:5, CSB). Before we give any money away, let's give ourselves away first.
Philip Nation, Assistant Professor of leadership and biblical studies for Houston Baptist University,
United Methodist Church Giving is about people working together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. In so doing, we effect change around the world, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To read stories about the generosity of United Methodists click here.